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Chapter 6 Nationality Rights in International Perspective
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Chapter 6
Nationality Rights in International Perspective

The Cable Act had become part of an expanding intercontinental chain of nationality laws that, link by link, widened the boundaries of women's political autonomy. Between 1918 and 1929, eighteen nations enacted statutory protections against a married woman's involuntary loss of citizenship. In addition to the United States, the U.S.S.R, Belgium, Estonia, Norway, Rumania, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Guatemala, Finland, France, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Albania, China, Cuba, and Persia granted some of their female citizens the right to maintain independent nationalities after marriage. By 1930, rough estimates indicated that about half of the world's women could maintain a separate nationality after marriage. These strides by women toward independent citizenship notwithstanding, only four nations made no distinctions based on sex in their nationality laws.[1]

The interwar years marked an important transitional period for women's nationality rights globally; during this time some countries retained marital naturalization and expatriation, while many others decided to modify or abolish these practices. Some traditionalists among international law experts blamed woman's rights groups for disarranging the world's nationality laws, but the criticism was misdirected. Uniformity in nationality law had never been a global reality, and all parties interested in nationality reform, including feminists, agreed on the pressing need to reduce international conflicts of law.


The transformations in expatriation and naturalization practices occurring in the two decades following World War I precipitated a rise in the number of cases of dual citizenship and statelessness among women globally; in the United States, the enactment of the Cable Act marked the onset of this trend. The United States no longer automatically naturalized the wives of citizens after 1922, but many of these women's countries continued to denationalize female citizens for marrying aliens. The Cable Act did provide some assistance to women rendered stateless by marriage to Americans by limiting the naturalization residency requirement for foreign wives of citizens to one year rather than the standard five.

At the same time, the gradual U.S. abandonment of marital expatriation in the 1920s and 1930s created a new class of dual nationals. Some American women married to foreigners were able to retain their U.S. citizenship and acquire a husband's nationality if his country automatically naturalized citizens' alien wives. The U.S. government, however, wishing to eradicate the option of dual citizenship, managed to limit married women's ability to acquire two nationalities by refusing to repatriate nonresident women married to aliens or marital expatriates who had acquired another nationality by some means other than marriage to an alien.[2]

The State Department, a vocal critic of dual citizenship in the interwar years, viewed its proliferation as a highly unwelcome result of the increasing lack of uniformity in nations' governance of expatriation, naturalization, and birth citizenship. Consequently, the Department declined to endorse Congressional bills in the 1920s that could increase the incidence of dual citizenship among American women, advocating instead the retention of existing practices or the creation of new rules that safeguarded against the assumption of dual nationalities by women, men, and children.

In its campaign to arrest dual citizenship, the State Department employed the same argument it had used to justify denaturalizing absentee citizens, emphasizing the significance of domicile as a determinant of nationality. Predictably, State Department officials had supported the original Cable Act clause that ensured the expatriation of nonresident American women married to aliens and resisted subsequent efforts to liberalize some of the rules governing the citizenship of women living abroad and their foreign-born children.


It is apparent from the several changes in the laws of nationality in the 1930s that Congress was diverting some of the energy it had devoted to immigration policy in the 1920s to longstanding problems relating to the assumption and loss of citizenship. One obvious factor contributing to a heightened interest in a comprehensive reevaluation of the country's naturalization and expatriation laws was the debate over American women's nationality rights. Women's halting but forward movement toward independent citizenship had complicated rather than enhanced the government's ability to regulate the size of the citizen population living abroad. As the threat of expatriation had diminished for married American women with noncitizen spouses, their chances of retaining American citizenship or plural citizenships had increased.

The League of Nations responded to the growing global interest in nationality issues by organizing The Hague Conference on the Codification of International Law. The conference, held in the spring of 1930, would fall short of reaching admittedly overly ambitious goals. Nevertheless, the conference was a pivotal event in the history of women's nationality rights. It provided an international forum for the discussion of the global problems of maritally induced expatriation, statelessness, and dual citizenship, and its proceedings challenged the U.S. government to define and defend its position on women's nationality rights—an exercise that eventually yielded further progressive amendments to the Cable Act and related nationality statutes. The conference also fostered the coalescence of an international feminist movement for independent citizenship.

The first half of the 1930s yielded some significant advances in women's nationality rights, but, ironically, the pursuit of the most momentous of these achievements cleaved the organizational alliance for independent citizenship into two antagonistic factions. This chapter chronicles these developments—the intensifying debate over women's nationality rights internationally as well as the impact of that agitation for multinational reform on U.S. policies and on the women's organizations involved in those reforms.

Marital expatriation had been targeted for extinction by international women's organizations before the League of Nations addressed the problem in 1924.[3] During World War I American women married


to citizens of the Central Powers had been declared enemy aliens by marriage, and women in many other belligerent nations had suffered similarly for their marriages to aliens. The wartime exile of some women for foreign marriages and the sequestration of their property prompted the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) to seek ways to prevent a repetition of these injustices. Resolving that married women should enjoy all the freedom granted to men to retain or alter their nationality, the IWSA established a committee to examine the status of married women's nationality rights. By 1923 the organization had issued a set of international rules designed to preserve a woman's premarital nationality as well as affirm her right to consent independently to expatriation. The IWSA guidelines, reproduced below, constituted the first organizational attempt to propose an international cure for the dismal state of married women's nationality rights:

A. Effect of Marriage. The nationality of a woman shall not be changed by reason only of marriage, or a change during marriage in the nationality of her husband.

B. Retention of Change. The right of a woman to retain her nationality or to change it by naturalization, denationalization or denaturalization shall not be denied or abridged because she is a married woman.

C. Absence of Consent. The nationality of a married woman shall not be changed without her consent except under conditions which would cause a change in the nationality of a man without his consent.[4]

The NLWV was the only U.S. member of the IWSA in 1923, even though the NWP was more global in its vision and focus than the League. After announcing its ambition to pursue legal equality for women throughout the world. the NWP sought recognition and support from the IWSA, but its membership in the Alliance was doomed by the schism that had developed between it and the opponents of the equal rights amendment. Protective legislation and the emerging prospect of an equal rights treaty for women had already become points of


friction among international women's organizations. When the NWP applied for membership in the IWSA in 1926, vehement protests by the NLWV and Mary Anderson of the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau scotched the applicant's chances of participating in the Alliance.[5]

Although denied a voice in the IWSA, the NWP managed to establish an important international base of operation and influence. In 1923, the Pan American Union's Fifth International Conference of American States had recommended that member countries not only investigate the status of its female citizens but consider repealing civil legislation discriminating against them.[6] At that time, a number of American republics had either outstripped the United States in abolishing marital expatriation or had never adopted the policy. Believing American governments had thus proven themselves more receptive than European governments to rights for women in this regard, the NWP dispatched Doris Stevens, Jane Norman Smith, Muna Lee, and Mrs. Valentine Winter to Havana in 1928 to buttonhole delegates at the sixth Pan American Union conference. The specific favor the women sought was the conferees' consideration of an equal rights treaty consisting of this simple but revolutionary pledge: "The contracting states agree that upon the ratification of this treaty, men and women shall have equal rights throughout the territory subject to their respective jurisdictions."[7] Like its domestic version, the NWP's equal rights amendment, this sweeping mandate for parity did not receive an enthusiastic reception from all woman's rights organizations.

The pro-treaty women at the Pan American Union conference were also determined to promote themselves, having informally resolved to challenge the tradition that left women with no direct or official voice in most international organizations. The women did manage to make some progress on this occasion. Doris Stevens, who quickly established


herself at the forefront of the international nationality-rights campaign, was allowed to attend the first plenary session of the conference—but only as an observer. Shortly before the meeting convened, Stevens noticed that a woman had walked onto the floor and seated herself unobtrusively at the long table beneath the rostrum. Stevens's delight at the woman's entrance quickly turned to disappointment when she realized that the woman was a stenographer, not a delegate. "I reflected at the moment," she recalled with some bitterness, "that this was an accurate symbol of the international position of women in the Americas."[8]

Stevens, Smith, and Lee, as well as feminists from Cuba and the Dominican Republic, received invitations to participate in an open hearing before the delegates, and, according to Stevens, their appearance marked women's first opportunity to defend their interests at the plenary session of a diplomatic conference. The newcomers reported that they generally found most of the delegations attentive and sympathetic to the need to reduce the incidence of marital expatriation, but the U.S. representatives were comparatively noncommittal. Stevens thought Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes patronizing and reported that although he appeared "courteous and gracious," the Secretary "treated us more or less like little children."[9]

Hughes had already received a flood of chain telegrams encouraging him to support the equal rights treaty, but when asked whether he favored an international solution to wives' dependent citizenship, the Secretary replied evasively that the United States did not want to "put anything over on the Latin-American countries." The women then reminded him that Guatemala and Costa Rica had already proposed such a treaty or convention. Pressed for a more decisive response, Hughes said he did not want an international agreement on the matter. "You have equal rights in the United States," he added impatiently.[10]

Hughes did not object so pointedly to the women's two other requests: a Pan American commission to study the status of women and a statement from the Union's conference advocating the nonpolitical appointment of female delegates to international conferences. Before the close of the conference, the conferees did unanimously adopt a reso-


lution establishing the Inter-American Commission of Women. This exclusively female commission, created to collect data on the civil and political status of women in the Americas, would subsequently play a vital role in the campaign for equal nationality rights.[11]

Each of the twenty-one American states had a representative in the Inter-American Commission. The Governing Board of the Pan American Union appointed the first seven members, and these women in turn selected the remaining fourteen representatives. The Governing Board asked Doris Stevens to chair the new commission. A decade later the circumstances of her appointment to the Commission would stand at the center of a controversy between the NWP and Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, but until Stevens's removal over a decade later the NWP was able to capitalize on its influence within the Inter-American Commission and sustain a high profile abroad.

The Inter-American Commission had five years to produce its report on women's nationality rights for the Pan American conference, but the chair of the Commission quickly sought avenues for more immediate dissemination of her reform plan. She was soon in Europe circulating preliminary proposals on nationality reform among other women's organizations. Stevens wanted her Commission's work on woman's citizenship rights to gain increased exposure—a goal she pursued with particular vigor after the League of Nations announced plans to hold an international codification conference in 1929 or 1930. Other women's organizations in the cause of nationality rights also grasped the potential significance of this particular world conference. The growing interest in the problems of marital expatriation and dual citizenship made nationality a likely candidate for codification.

The formation of the League of Nations and the Permanent Court of International Justice had renewed interest in devising an international code of law. The United States was not a member of the League of Nations, but by the mid-1920s the idea of a world court had amassed considerable support in the United States—at least in theory. Americans seemed to favor the formation of such a judicial body, and the platforms of their two major political parties endorsed it; but a two-thirds vote


of the Senate proved difficult to muster, and the debate over U.S. membership in the World Court dragged on for several years.[12]

As for an international code of law, those who applauded the idea in theory also acknowledged that the process of drafting such a code was a formidable undertaking. Experts could readily identify problems relating to citizenship rights. The difficult task was convincing nations to discard some time-honored practices for the sake of global uniformity. Despite pessimistic predictions, the League of Nations sent questionnaires to member and nonmember nations to survey levels of interest in seven proposed subjects for codification. Three of these candidates for codification made it onto the agenda at The Hague Conference on the Codification of International Law; nationality was one of them.[13]

At the very least, The Hague conference in March of 1930 promised organized women an unprecedented opportunity to tender their views on nationality rights; at best, the international gathering could produce a nationality convention endorsing women's liberation from marital expatriation. Yet, some institutional barriers promised to hamper women's visibility at the conference. Their official participation in such assemblies was still limited because they were sparsely represented in international law organizations. Despite women's intense involvement in nationality-rights reform, convincing the U.S. government that some of these reformers had the credentials to serve as full-fledged delegates to the codification conference proved difficult.

Personally aware of the disadvantages of having an unofficial status at such legal conferences, Stevens campaigned determinedly for the appointment of female delegates. Invited to speak at a gathering of the


International Union of Societies for the League of Nations, she emphasized the importance of women's inclusion in international discussions of women's citizenship rights. "It is . . . our nationality that is at stake," she reminded her audience, ". . . and it would seem peculiarly within our domain to assist in codifying international law on this point."14 Stevens's efforts to generate additional support for female participants were not very productive. The League of Nations Assembly did adopt a resolution submitted by Stevens advising countries that positions within the League should be open equally to men and women, but when the codification conference convened in the spring of 1930, female delegates constituted only a small minority of delegates.[15]

Some women's organizations prepared for the codification conference by undertaking independent comparative studies of nationality law. The Inter-American Commission was already gathering data to present to the next Conference of American States as well as The Hague Codification Conference. The International Alliance of Women (renamed the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship) had submitted its 1923 convention on nationality to the League of Nation's Committee of Experts for the Progressive Codification of International Law; but the draft nationality convention unveiled by the League of Nations did not follow the Alliance's guidelines. The proposed convention ignored the legislative trend in several countries that granted women increased control over their nationality. The Alliance was disheartened further by the contents of a report submitted by the head of the League's Codification Committee that suggested that the issue of married women's nationality rights posed such a challenge to international regulation that its discussion would be an obstacle to codification efforts.[16]

After the League of Nations released its draft proposal, forty scholars and jurists gathered at Harvard Law School to design international conventions on the three subjects slated for discussion at the codifica-


tion conference. The all-male gathering included the foremost experts on international law in the United States.[17] The Inter-American Commission of Women subsequently assembled some experts to draft a nationality convention for submission at the codification conference. This group included Alice Paul, Emma Wold, Burnita Shelton Matthews, Margaret Lambie, and Doris Stevens (all members of the NWP), as well as three members of the aforementioned Harvard Research Committee: James Brown Scott, the president of the American Institute of Law, who served as chairperson; Henry Hazard, who was an assistant solicitor in the State Department; and William Dennis, a former legal adviser to the State Department and then a professor of international law at American University. This Inter-American Commission roundtable considered the merits of the three circulating sets of draft conventions on married women's nationality and rejected all of them as too conservative.

The Inter-American Commission's advisory group then voted to draft an alternative agreement. The resulting treaty proposal, which bore the distinctive imprint of the NWP, provided that "the contracting parties agree that from the going into effect of this treaty, there shall be no distinction based on sex in their laws and practice relating to nationality."[18] The Inter-American Commission unanimously adopted the proposal, and the Executive Council of the American Institute of International Law also registered its approval. By then The Hague conference was merely a month away.[19]


The acquisition of Scott as an Inter-American Commission ally was an important triumph for reformers working for equal nationality rights. As Stevens reminded Alva Belmont, Scott's stellar international reputation could boost the stature of the women's cause in some key circles. "Miss Paul thinks we have never made a more valuable friend," confided Stevens.[20] Indeed, Alice Paul would never have reason to doubt her enthusiasm over the acquisition of this advocate of the cause. Scott had valuable connections in several important international organizations and would ensure Stevens's and Paul's memberships in the American Society of International Law. He also quickly developed into one of the most influential and committed spokespersons for women's nationality rights.[21]

When Scott asked whether the League of Women Voters should also be included in their plans for presenting the women's case at the conference, Stevens advised against offering the invitation. "I pointed out," she wrote, "that they did not do Pan American work as we did, that they did not confine themselves to feminist work as we did."[22] Stevens had hinted loudly that the women's alliance for equal nationality rights had fractured along familiar lines. Although the NWP and the NLWV professed to hold the same high degree of commitment to nationality reform for women, they could no longer agree on the means of achieving their objective. In the final months leading to the codification conference, the NLWV and the NWP had both pressured the Hoover administration for guarantees that it would not support a discriminatory


nationality convention. One hundred women attending the NWP's annual convention descended on the White House three months before the international meeting in the Netherlands to request an audience with the President and Secretary of State Henry Stimson. They received a polite hearing but no promises.[23]

The codification conference marked a major fork in the road for women's nationality rights globally; it could lead to either a stunning victory or a dead end. Yet, in the months before the conference convened many advocates of woman's rights tried to remain very (if not overly) optimistic about what the conference might reasonably accomplish. Some observers hailed the international conference as a forum for the general promotion of woman's rights. Belle Sherwin, president of the NLWV, went so far as to declare that "the place of women in modern society" could be settled at The Hague. So inspired by the conference's possibilities, Sherwin sent a formal statement to the State Department urging the appointment of women to the U.S. delegation.[24]

Resistance to the inclusion of women in the delegation, however, was a reminder that the conference might have a conservative cast. Women's groups promoting equal nationality rights in the United States had gained the attention of Congress but had made a fainter impression in the male-dominated field of international politics. It was possible that the practice of derivative citizenship would not only survive the codification conference but be reaffirmed. Some women's organizations involved in nationality-rights reform contemplated another possible conference outcome they found hardly less distressing: the recognition of the Inter-American Commission's proposed equal-nationality treaty. Although the International Alliance of Women opposed this treaty and continued to stand behind its convention of 1923, Stevens promised to be an aggressive promoter of her Commission's proposal at The Hague.

Both sides in the treaty debate thus wanted to secure representation in the U.S. delegation, but Manley O. Hudson, appointed technical adviser for the United States at the conference, had made it clear that


he did not want women to be officially part of the delegation. The NLWV nevertheless asked him to set aside his reservations and consider Sophonisba Breckinridge and Dorothy Straus as additions to his circle of advisers.[25] The NWP made a strong, although less unified, effort to secure a member's appointment to the U.S. delegation.[26] In the end, neither organization secured a delegatory position for one of their members. Only one woman, Ruth B. Shipley of the U.S. Passport Division, was part of the U.S. contingent. Wold went to The Hague, but as a technical advisor to the U.S. plenipotentiaries. In addition to Stevens and Wold, the NWP had in attendance Florence Bayard Hilles, Ella Riegel, Margaret Whittemore, and Mary Caroline Taylor; the Party sent them to the Netherlands with instructions to secure a hearing before the Nationality Committee. The NLWV commissioned its former president Maud Wood Park and Mrs. Pittman Potter to report on the month-long event.[27]

The NWP's and the NLWV's intentions for the conference were clear, but the U.S. State Department's plans were far more covert in order to minimize preconference commitments and confrontations. In 1926, the previous Secretary of State, Frank Kellogg, had informed the secretary general of the League of Nations that the United States believed there was "no real necessity for the regulation of these subjects [regarding nationality] by international agreement."[28] A change of administration had not altered this cautious appraisal of the value of international agreements on nationality. Four years later the State Department still thought it doubtful that any international convention would emerge from the deliberations in the Netherlands and preferred not to sign one if it did. Nevertheless, Secretary of State Stimson en-


couraged President Hoover to send representatives to the conference because the three subjects slated for codification were issues of vital concern to the United States.

Stimson was committed to attend the London Naval Conference when the codification conference convened, so Assistant Secretary Joseph Cotton served as Acting Secretary and primary director of the delegates' actions. Before the U.S. delegation left for the Netherlands, Cotton informed the delegation's chairperson, David Hunter Miller, that the United States was "in no sense to approve the Harvard drafts as a whole or to approve the League bases as a whole."[29] This instruction was mostly precautionary; Cotton actually doubted that there would be a convention to sign by the end of the conference. Two weeks into the month-long conference Miller informed Cotton that his forecast seemed accurate; there appeared to be "almost no chance" of agreement on the nationality issue.[30]

At The Hague the delegates discussed the complications created by statelessness and dual allegiances and tried to draft a nationality convention that would reduce the kinds of conflicts over citizenship and personal property that were aggravated by the global patchwork of nationality laws.[31] Governments and legal experts in the twentieth century were concerned with the rise in jurisdictional conflicts attributable to several factors, including the simple fact that the world's population had become increasingly mobile. As the U.S. State Department had noted with growing concern, Americans were traveling, working, settling, and marrying abroad in significant numbers. As more people traveled beyond their country's borders, an increasing number of children were born outside their parents' country or countries. These children could obtain two citizenships at birth if their father's country followed the rule of jus sanguinis (right by blood) and the nation in which the birth occurred adhered to the rule of jus soli (right by place). The situation only promised to grow more common and complex if more coun-


tries extended to mothers the right to transfer citizenship to their foreign-born children.[32]

At The Hague, while the advocates of women's nationality rights continued to denounce the discriminatory articles in the draft convention submitted by the League's Codification Committee, the U.S. State Department voiced its disappointment with several key provisions of the convention—specifically, the rules on expatriation. At the conference, the U.S. delegation's pronouncements relating to expatriation and plural citizenship emphasized the relationship between women's nationality rights and both of these issues. For the members of the U.S. delegation, a married woman's ability to hold an independent nationality and her ability to convey citizenship to her children were subsets of larger policy concerns.[33]

Although the U.S. delegation wished to focus on the issue of multiple citizenships, its members refrained from any blatant criticism of "hyphenated" Americans that could offend an international audience. Rather, the delegates spoke ardently of the citizen's right to expatriation—to sever ties to one country and to swear exclusive allegiance to another. Instead of representing expatriation as a power "inherent in national sovereignty" as the U.S. Supreme Court had done in Mackenzie v. Hare, the delegates described expatriation as a liberty exercised and controlled by the individual rather than the government.[34] Not surprisingly, Flournoy and Miller did not advert to the discontent back home with their government's interpretation of "voluntary" expatriation.


Until the closing days of the conference, the U.S. delegation seemed unresponsive to feminists' exhortations to speak out forcefully for independent citizenship for the world's women. "Our delegates apparently have no intention of doing anything in regard to nationality," concluded an exasperated Ella Riegel.[35] Back home, Alice Paul was canvassing Senators tirelessly, trying to gather assurances from a critical third that they would oppose a world code that perpetuated women's subordinate citizenship. Paul managed to boost some flagging spirits with her frequent cables to colleagues in the Netherlands describing the strong support the women's cause still sustained in the United States.[36]

The force of the "feminine lobby," as Cotton called it, proved more effective in the United States than at the conference. At The Hague, even limited recognition of women's voices had not been granted easily. The International Council of Women and the International Alliance of Women had sent a joint memorandum to the conference, which was presented before the assembly of delegates on March 13; two days later a deputation of representatives from the two women's organizations were able to meet with the Bureau of the Conference. Emphasizing their twenty-five-year commitment to nationality-law reform, the representatives insisted on being given an opportunity to speak before the assembly on behalf of women. "Even a criminal is not refused a legal defender," said Louise van Eeghen of the International Council.[37] But the actions of the unofficial female delegations had antagonized the presiding officer of the codification conference, Theodorus Heemskerk, and jeopardized the reformers' chances of observing the Nationality Committee's meetings.

Claiming that groups of women were harassing the delegates, Heemskerk barred the alleged offenders from the grounds of the Peace Palace. The women simply regrouped and resumed their protests outside the palace gates. Such tenaciousness annoyed Heemskerk, who angrily informed the press that the women "came not merely as strangers,


but with the hostile intention of frustrating the work of the conference."[38] To the delight of the publicity-seeking protesters, news reporters pursued their story, hoping to enliven their coverage of what in many respects seemed to be a rather dull international event.

Before the conference concluded, officials did yield some time to a handful of the women who had been milling around impatiently outside the Peace Palace. Doris Stevens of the Inter-American Commission and four other women representing the International Alliance of Women, the International Council of Women, the NWP, and the National Council of Chilean Women spoke at a meeting of the Nationality Committee. The chairperson of the committee, M. Politis of Greece, did not fail to remind them, however, that their invitation to speak was "merely an act of courtesy on our part. . . . The decisions which we shall make will not depend upon the hearings of the ladies."[39] Stevens then chided the delegates for slighting the cause of equal nationality rights. "We were told," she related, "that you had already taken up your attitude . . . and that we could not alter it." "We cannot go on waiting," she added defiantly.

Yet, women were forced to wait. Despite the bold efforts of Stevens and many others, female reformers' opinions gained limited circulation within the Peace Palace. Frustrated by the marginal role women had again been compelled to play, Stevens reminded the distinguished male delegates that they should be self-conscious rather than smug about the power they wielded. It was, after all, "a mere accident that we were born Women and that you were born men."[40]

The convention that emerged at the conclusion of the sessions on nationality was incompatible with U.S. policies on expatriation, and the country's delegation voted against it. But the U.S. government's refusal to support the convention was not based solely on conflicts with the Cable Act. Dual citizenship and expatriation were ripe subjects for codification, but they were also sensitive political issues. Many Americans accepted as axiomatic that a country, in order to remain strong, had to command its citizens' undivided allegiance. Anxieties about heavy foreign immigration into the United States had cast a shadow of doubt


over those American citizens who had begun life possessing another nationality. Many native-born Americans expressed Flournoy's fear that the United States would inevitably face a severe crisis of identity and strength if the country could not command the undivided loyalty of its growing population of naturalized citizens. Yet, for the supporters of women's nationality rights, The Hague convention's greatest failing was the absence of any guarantee that citizen women would receive the nationality rights enjoyed by their male counterparts.[41]

The draft convention disappointed all advocates of equal nationality rights and appalled equalitarian feminists, who continued to exhort the U.S. delegation to speak out forcefully for independent citizenship for women and an international agreement that truly honored that goal. When Stevens stood before the full complement of delegates to condemn the arguments that had disarmed her cause, she once again tried to slake her anger by shaming her audience. "Equality will not bring uniformity," she conceded. "It will merely introduce into nationality laws justice to women."[42]

About a week before the close of the conference, Miller told Cotton that he, Hackworth, Shipley, and Risley wanted to vote against the entire convention. The United States would have to sign it with so many reservations that it seemed pointless to enter into the agreement.[43] Activity on the other end of the line of communication was also making accession to the convention a less prudent gesture. "Because of considerable criticism going on here by a certain group of women, I should prefer that there be no signing of conventions at all at The Hague," the Acting Secretary explained.[44]

The position of United States had remained uncertain until the final moments of the conference, but the significance of its decision did not. "American feminists here regard the vote to be taken tonight on their


nationality rights as the most important crisis in the fight for their worldwide emancipation," Stevens had reported on the closing day of the conference.[45] Throughout the sessions, the chairperson of the Inter-American Commission had been forced to remain apprehensive about her country's posture on woman's rights. Miller had never allayed her fears that the U.S. delegation might approve the convention, although organized women's demands reportedly had begun to have an effect back in the United States.

The day the plenary session was to vote on the nationality convention, Cotton had informed Miller that the influence of the "organized feminine lobby" at home had not abated. Indeed, the women had convinced both Congressional Foreign Affairs Committees to recommend that the United States decline to sign the nationality conventions.[46] Two hours before the vote at the Peace Palace, representatives from the National Association of Women Lawyers and the NWP appeared at the White House to urge President Hoover once again to reject the convention. John Cable and James Brown Scott arrived on the same mission.[47] Meanwhile, Elizabeth Selden Rogers and a cadre of Republican women headed for the office of the Acting Secretary of State. "We want to launch the world code on an Equal Rights basis," she had announced to Cotton. The United States "has the power to put this over," and its women, she warned, "will not be satisfied until you do it."[48]

Back in the Netherlands, Stevens was observing the tense moments preceding the final vote on the nationality convention. It was late in the evening, in the closing hours of a conference that had produced only one codification convention, and, as Stevens recalled, as Miller rose to announce the U.S. position, "all eyes turned to the little knot of women in the high, far-away balcony." "Spontaneous applause came from these women," followed by "a sharp rap from the presiding officers gavel. . . . From then on the festive air gave way to one of almost solemn melancholy."[49] The U.S. delegation cast the only dissenting vote against the convention. Although defeated at The Hague, American feminists had held the home ground.

The U.S. delegation's reasons for disputing the convention were not


restricted to opposing the document's rules on married women's citizenship, although feminists argued that this flaw was sufficient to justify its rejection. The State Department had been predisposed not to sign an international agreement on nationality, and the convention's incompatibility with the Cable Act and other domestic statutes provided reasonable grounds for rejecting it. The United States could have signed the convention with reservations, as did many nations, but in the final hours critical efforts by women's organizations had made that option problematic. Although the U.S. action was generally applauded at home, some within the conference delegation did not support the rejection of the convention. Flournoy believed a vote for the flawed convention was preferable to flat rejection. Hudson, an adviser to the U.S. delegation, thought the State Department had cravenly succumbed to feminist lobbyists. The U.S. action, observed Hudson, suggested that the government "is more intent upon mollifying a section of its own public opinion than upon grappling with the very real problems which exist today and which the convention is designed to solve."[50]

American feminists were gratified temporarily by their delegates' action and by the State Department's subsequent pronouncement that the United States did not sign the convention because it was not in accord with two "principles" that were "firmly embedded in our law"—namely, expatriation and married women's nationality rights.[51] Although it appeared that many European countries would generally support ratification of the convention, equalitarian feminists hoped to find a stronghold of opposition within the American republics. The Americas had not been represented well enough at the codification conference to form a distinct core of dissent, but evidence of such solidarity did emerge at the Pan American Union conference in 1933.

The Hague conference would further stir rather than settle the debate over married women's nationality rights. Despite the strong vote for the nationality convention, many nations had voted for it with res-


ervations. The limited accomplishments of the codification conference suggested once again to many observers that a world code was perhaps an admirable but unachievable goal. Even the convention's preamble acknowledged that the economic and social conditions in many countries had made it impossible to find a "uniform solution" to the problems of statelessness and dual citizenship.[52]

Alva Belmont of the NWP offered praise for the U.S. stand against "the old world subjection of women." As for the Europeans, she dismissed their actions as a desperate attempt to preserve male power. "These men have lost their slaves. They have lost their serfs. They have lost their dominion over the working class. They still think they can dominate women. It terrifies them to think that in the future women mean to govern themselves," Belmont pronounced.[53] Undoubtedly, Congress imagined that the "Old World" was observing as it debated the latest Cable Act reform bill. Animated by events at the codification conference, the intense lobbying by women's organizations, as well as a surge of home support for the rejection of the convention, Congress passed the Nationality Act of July 3, 1930.[54] As noted earlier, this amending statute repealed the provision in Section 3 of the Cable Act expatriating women for maintaining a foreign husband and domicile.

The subsequent revocation of the ineligible-alien clause in the Cable Act also was hastened by the codification conference. As the House Committee noted in its report on the bill, despite the fact that the United States had repeatedly endorsed independent citizenship at a major policy conference, "there is no other country in the world which deprives its women nationals of their citizenship for the sole reason that they marry aliens ineligible for naturalization." In the afterglow of U.S. performance at The Hague, this practice had become acutely embarrassing to the federal government, which would abolish it the following year.[55]


The repeal of the clause expatriating women for foreign residence demonstrated the power of American women's united voices. Women who had married and left the United States after its enactment could now retain their American citizenship by following certain administrative procedures. Congress, overriding the State Department's advice, had responded to American women's demands for a citizenship they could transport safely beyond the borders of the United States.[56] The U.S. citizenship of women expatriated before the passage of the law, however, was not automatically restored by the 1930 amendment. Once again Congress stopped short of repudiating and redressing past discrimination by guaranteeing a full reversal of its effects.

Equalitarian feminists' disappointment with the results of The Hague conference did not diminish their commitment to a world convention on nationality rights. The Inter-American Commission, Equal Rights International, and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom remained firm proponents of this treaty solution. But some key players in the independent-citizenship crusade continued to withhold their support for an equal-nationality treaty. The International Alliance of Women and the International Council of Women preferred to advocate alterations to The Hague convention consonant with the guidelines elaborated by the Alliance in 1923.[57]

Disagreements among women's organizations over nationality-reform strategies had begun to brew before 1930; but the disputes had remained relatively subdued in spite of the politically charged atmosphere created by the introduction of the equal rights amendment.


Women's groups laboring for nationality rights seemed to have tacitly agreed to support one another's immigration and nationality bills (or at least to refrain from voicing disapproval publicly) and to avoid presenting competing bills during the same session of Congress. This arrangement had operated successfully throughout most of the 1920s, in part because the NWP felt compelled by Congressional intransigence to adopt the WJCC's gradualist strategies. Into the late 1920s, the NWP and WJCC could still present the impression of a united front in their crusade for independent citizenship; by the end of 1930, however, the introduction of the equal-nationality treaty had made any guise of such cooperation, particularly between the NLWV and the NWP, impossible to sustain.

Although the NLWV was deeply displeased with the authors of the equal-nationality treaty, it never repudiated the treaty's explicit intention, which was the abolition of sex discrimination in U.S. nationality laws. Nevertheless, the NLWV's leaders were too distracted by the obvious textual similarities between the nationality treaty and the proposed equal rights amendment to assess the merits of the nationality treaty independently. From the NLWV's perspective, the idea of a nationality treaty had to be arrested because it could serve as the means to a larger and destructive end: the abolition of all laws based on sex. Once equalitarian feminists unveiled the equal-nationality treaty, the NLWV's leaders were no longer able to discern even a faint ideological line between the NWP's commitment to equal nationality rights and its advocacy of an equal rights amendment. Indeed, the NWP had never drawn one.

The debate over the equal-nationality treaty was not directly tied to the disputes over protective labor legislation for women, which mired efforts to secure an equal rights amendment, but the NLWV's leaders were convinced that any blanket agreement embodying such an absolute definition of equality could ultimately threaten the status of special legislation for women. The League's national leaders feared that U.S. acceptance of the nationality treaty could be the toppling domino that would eventually touch off the ratifications of the equal rights amendment and its companion treaty. Although this prediction was unrealized, the prospect seemed genuine enough in 1930 to force a split in the women's coalition for nationality rights.

The International Council of Women and the International Alliance of Women reckoned candidly that the nationality treaty was "an ideal standard" but one that was presently "quite impossible." Although this


unpublicized statement was not a clear renunciation of the treaty itself, the report also contained less diplomatic language describing equalitarians' "abstract declarations of principle."[58] The NWP's promotion of the equal-nationality treaty had contributed to its already unflattering image in some reform circles as a small congregation of ideologues who ignored economic and social—if not biological—realities in their selfish pursuit of "equality."

The fate of the women's alliance for nationality rights in the 1930s, however, revealed that the nationality treaty's proponents did not have a corner on stubbornness or myopia. The NLWV still continued to oppose the nationality treaty openly, even though the decision to fight against international recognition of the treaty placed the League in an awkward situation. League leaders had to explain their decision to renounce a treaty that promised to secure a series of reforms they had supported. Belle Sherwin, president of the NLWV, alluded to this dilemma when she made the somewhat cryptic announcement to members of the organization that "at a carefully chosen time the 'somewhat isolated and not-so-simple situation' in which the League of Women Voters finds itself will be explained to the State Department."[59] The League may have been forced to defend its position publicly sooner than it desired. The House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization scheduled a hearing in December 1930, to discuss a bill that carried now familiar language: "there shall be no distinction based on sex in the law and practice relating to nationality."[60]


While the NLWV pondered how it might maneuver out of the corner into which it had unwillingly been driven, the League of Nations reopened its consideration of women's nationality rights.[61] To confirm its commitment to this investigation, the League of Nations had established a Women's Consultative Committee on Nationality composed of two representatives from each of the following international organizations: the International Council of Women, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Inter-American Commission of Women, Equal Rights International, World Union of Women for International Concord, All-Asian Conference of Women, International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship, and the International Federation of University Women. The NWP was able to secure a sure foothold within the Women's Consultative Committee through its involvement in the Inter-American Commission and Equal Rights International, and its strong influence in two of the others. The NWP's Paul, Stevens, and Whittemore all captured positions on the Commission. The antitreaty camp from the United States was not directly represented, although the International Alliance of Women contributed members to the Commission. The NLWV reportedly planned to publicize its dissenting view on the treaty—but only if "it should be necessary to counteract publicity heralded as the opinion of that of all American women."[62]

At its first meeting, the Women's Consultative Committee rejected The Hague nationality convention. Although the convention did not please anyone on the Committee, members' dissatisfaction with the general state of the nationality-rights debate varied in intensity. Equalitarians wanted to promote the equal-nationality treaty exclusively, while moderate members seemed appeased by the willingness of the League of Nations to reopen discussion of the nationality question. These differences in opinion appeared resolvable, but, according to some insiders' reports, the animosity and distrust fostered by past conflicts among the participating organizations began to complicate the Committee's task. Committee member Eugenie Meller of the Women's


International League for Peace and Freedom confirmed that rivalries had erupted within the Committee. "Personal antagonism," she admitted, "has dimmed objective reasoning."[63] The first report submitted by the Consultative Committee to the secretary general of the League of Nations, on July 16, 1931, bore little evidence of any serious division within the advisory body. The Committee urged the Assembly of the League of Nations to move quickly toward reconsideration of The Hague nationality convention and "to submit to the Governments for ratification a new Convention founded on the principle of equality between men and women with regard to nationality."[64] And the fact that some countries still seemed unprepared to accept such a revised convention was "not a reason for compromise with regard to the principle of equality."[65]

Representatives from the eight women's organizations signed the report, although the International Alliance of Women and the International Federation of University Women added that they signed "on the understanding that the equality asked for includes the right of a married woman to her independent nationality and that the nationality of a woman shall not be changed by reason only of marriage or a change during marriage in the nationality of her husband." This clarification seemed rather pointless—except as an excuse to insert the language of the International Alliance's 1923 nationality rights resolution into the record. The International Federation of University Women also gave notice that it took no stand on a child's derivation of citizenship from the mother, a reform endorsed elsewhere in the report.[66]

The Committee report left room for a later endorsement of an equal-nationality treaty, a maneuver that must have disturbed the NLWV. The League was also reminded of the consequences of its inability (or


unwillingness) to adjust to spiraling international developments as adroitly or as enthusiastically as the NWP and was left only with the consolation that it could still compete for control of the national scene. Not surprisingly, then, NLWV leaders chose to convey their response to the Consultative Committee's report through familiar domestic channels by seeking reassurances from the State Department that the Hoover administration would not endorse an equal-rights treaty.

When the Consultative Committee's report appeared, The Hague convention on nationality had still failed to receive broad and unreserved support. Sixty-six countries had been invited to sign, but almost, two years after the codification conference only thirty-seven had done so (seven with reservations).[67] When the League Assembly met in 1932, it voted for a continuation of the Consultative Committee's work but turned down a resolution calling for revisions in The Hague convention. Instead, the Assembly urged member nations to ratify the convention quickly. Appealing to wavering countries, the Assembly defended the convention's provisions, admitting that it may have been a tentative step toward codification but that it was nonetheless an important one. Describing the convention pragmatically as a reflection of "the degree of progress which can at present be obtained by way of general international agreement," the Assembly also assured doubters that its ratification would not inhibit any nation that wished to endorse the principle of equality of the sexes.[68] So, although the Women's Consultative Committee had been asked to resume its task, its key recommendation had been rejected by the League Assembly—a reminder to the Committee that its work was strictly advisory.

Deeply concerned about the League Assembly's latest action, the NWP requested a hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss the world code generally and, more specifically, to encourage the government to maintain its stance against the nation-


ality conventions.[69] "However admirable the League [of Nations] may be in other respects, it has no understanding of the movement for the freedom of women which is so strong in our country," warned the NWP.[70] Meanwhile, Alice Paul had remained in Geneva and was using Equal Rights International's headquarters as a base from which to observe the actions of the League Assembly. Although the subject of women's nationality was on the next session's agenda, Paul reported that League officials remained firmly set against allowing women before the Assembly to voice their objections to The Hague convention. The Assembly's continued promotion of that convention stoked Paul's fear that the eventual acceptance of the convention by one key country could set off a run of ratifications. The countervailing presence of the reformers, however, remained strong despite the women's exclusion from the institutional deliberations. "The handful of women who agitated almost unnoticed [in 1930], has grown to an army which goes on record as the largest ever recruited by women on any single political or juridical question," boasted one participant.[71]

Back in the United States, these ranks had been depleted temporarily of key players on the domestic front. Wold's departure from NWP headquarters and Paul's and Stevens's foreign-based activities for the equal-nationality treaty had left the NWP bereft of some of its most experienced leaders in the home campaign. Stevens's concern that the pace of reform at home had slackened, however, was hardly confirmed: bills to amend the Cable Act still received serious consideration by the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization; the President had signed the Nationality Act of July 3, 1930; and John Cable was willing to sponsor additional reform bills (although he did refuse to back the NWP's equal-nationality bill). Furthermore, most of the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had already voiced their dissatisfaction with The Hague convention and agreed to meet with the NWP in the spring of 1932.

At this hearing before the Senate Committee the NWP reiterated its request that the United States withhold support for the World Court


if that body's decisions would be governed by a world code "based on the theory of the inferiority of women and the superiority of men."[72] Yet, this wariness was not shared by all the women's organizations involved in the nationality-rights movement. The NLWV, now clearly emerging as the fiercest critic of the NWP's international agenda, conveyed its disapproval of the NWP's views on World Court membership to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's chairperson, William Borah. But, judging from Stevens's account of their appearance before the Senate Committee, the NWP's perspective gained more than just a respectful hearing in that forum: "We returned to headquarters . . . jubilant over one of the most successful hearings we have ever had in all our history. For the first time our opponents were given rough treatment at the hands of the members of Congress on the Committee."[73]

The Hague Codification Conference of 1930 had not produced a convention satisfactory to woman's rights groups involved in nationality-law reform, but it had revealed the potential of a global nationality-rights movement. And four years later it would become apparent that U.S. action at The Hague in 1930 had created expectations about that country's leadership in the cause of women's nationality rights—expectations the federal government could not diplomatically ignore.

In 1930, whether to purge U.S. nationality laws of all remaining distinctions based on sex was still a question tied to the government's attitude toward the foreign-born, although nationality-rights reformers were trying to cordon off the issue of women's nationality rights from the so-called immigrant question. The federal government, however, could never fully accept the feminist argument that the expatriation of women for foreign marriages was strictly a woman's rights issue because the granting of equal nationality rights to American women required changes in the law that could undermine the existing system of immigration and naturalization control. Allowing an American woman to retain her citizenship regardless of her domicile or the nationality of her spouse, providing for the nonquota admission of the alien spouse


or child of an American woman, offering derivative naturalization to children of a citizen mother—these proposed innovations in the nationality and immigration laws all promised to produce increases in the absentee citizen population and in the number of nonquota immigrants entering the United States.

In the 1910s, media hyping of the titled American heiress had roused Congress's negative reactions to independent citizenship. In the 1920s, the response had thrived on affairs of greater weight, such as the preservation of family unity, the assimilation and naturalization of the immigrant mother, and the changing nature of women's citizenship. By the 1930s the advocates of reform faced opposition constructed from even more durable concerns. It was during the course of this decade that the debate over nationality rights between organized women and the State Department finally became publicly discernible. The State Department's responsibilities in the administration of the country's immigration and nationality laws had expanded over the course of the 1920s. Although the Labor Department remained the executive body most involved in the 1920s' debates over immigration policy, when the discussion turned more intently to expatriation and citizen absenteeism in the following decade, the State Department assumed the higher profile.

The Labor Department monitored naturalized Americans living in the United States, but the State Department focused its attention on those who left. One of the State Department's primary concerns was the long-term removal of citizen children to foreign countries. Government officials tracked the exodus of Americans of all ages from the United States, the majority of whom were presumed to be naturalized citizens, women with foreign husbands, or children with noncitizen or naturalized parents. The Office of the Commissioner General of Immigration reported that the number of emigrating Americans had actually diminished in the 1920s, peaking in 1922 at 79,198, dropping dramatically the next year to 36,260, and then falling to 20,739 by 1930.[74]






























Source: Table 80 in U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Immigration, Annual Report of the Commissioner General of Immigration (1931), 215.


However, as the State Department reported in 1933—the year reformers were lobbying most vigorously for bills providing American citizenship to children born abroad to American women—the cumulative number of Americans living permanently in foreign countries had reached 420,459.[75]

While the country continued to absorb a significant annual infusion of new foreign-born residents, a much smaller but still substantial number of citizens left the United States permanently each year—a fact underemphasized by historians but not by the State Department during the interwar years. Children born in the United States contributed heavily to the volume of that exodus of citizens. In fiscal year 1932, for example, the Bureau of Immigration reported that 32,668 native-born Americans had permanently departed from the United States; 25,117 of these citizens were children under sixteen years of age.[76] Some of these young Americans who left the country with their parents at an early age inevitably would remain abroad and marry foreign citizens, but the State Department was equally concerned about the fact that the foreign-born children of this generation would also be considered Ameri-


can citizens because their parents were native-born and former residents.[77]

While the State Department made diplomatic comments about the political status and loyalties of the woman married to an alien, it contemplated her foreign-born child with undisguised alarm. In 1930, nationality law still did not allow minors to secure citizenship derivatively through an American mother. Providing derivative citizenship through either parent, a reform equalitarian feminists demanded, promised to increase the size of the citizen population living in foreign territories.[78] It also guaranteed a rise in the number of citizens holding multiple nationalities. From the State Department's perspective, both developments were dangerous.

The State Department's efforts to limit derivative citizenship for minors placed it at odds with equalitarian feminists, who expressed no sympathy for the administration's complaints that equal-nationality bills would promote the growth of another generation of American "aliens" and dual nationals. But as U.S. delegate Ruth Shipley told The Hague Committee on Nationality, women's and children's nationality rights were inseparable, not independent, "problems." "They are one," she explained. "We could not separate them if we would and, so far as my Government is concerned, we would not if we could."[79]

The State Department argued repeatedly that extending derivative citizenship rights to the child of an American woman or allowing a woman to maintain her citizenship while living permanently abroad


would exacerbate existing problems. It is not surprising, then, that the State Department positioned itself as feminists' most influential opponent in the final years of the battle for women's nationality rights. In its warnings to Congress regarding the NWP's equal-nationality bills, State Department officials often criticized provisions offering women either the right to retain their American citizenship despite foreign marriages and domiciles or the power to transfer their citizenship to their children.

Following the amendments to the Cable Act in 1930 and 1931, few distinctions still remained between citizen men's and women's nationality rights and their alien spouses' access to naturalization, but those distinctions were significant ones. The law still withheld a simplified naturalization procedure from the resident alien husband of a citizen, and the children of married American women still derived their nationalities from their father or their place of birth. Women's nationality bills introduced in the years following the 1930 codification conference did address mothers' rights, but as noted above the State Department consistently objected to provisions allowing for the conveyance of American citizenship from citizen mother to her foreign-born child.

During the first session of the Seventy-second Congress, the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization received one of the NWP's sponsored proposals directed toward that end.[80] When the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization called a hearing on the bill early in 1932, members of the NWP dominated the field of testimony. Burnita Shelton Matthews was the official NWP representative, but she was flanked by colleagues Laura M. Berrien, Rebekah Greathouse, and Emma Wold, who appeared as spokespersons for the National Association of Women Lawyers, the Lawyer's Council of the NWP, and the Woman's Bar Association of the District of Columbia, respectively. James Brown Scott, president of the American Institute of International Law, also attended as an advocate of the bill.[81]


Scott emphasized the critical role the United States would assume in taking this bold step toward completing the equalization of nationality rights between the sexes, but everyone present did not share his enthusiasm. Committee member Mell G. Underwood objected to Section 5's abolition of all distinctions between women and men and trotted out the old argument that would not die—that "a woman is so much more emotional that she has to have the safeguards instead of removing them."[82] Belle Sherwin of the NLWV did not attend, but her letter of warning, which was introduced at the hearing, described Section 5 as a "blanket action" that would create "utter confusion" within the judicial system. Reform, advised the president of the NLWV with characteristic prudence, should proceed one measured step at a time.[83] However, Elsie Hill Redding, who claimed affiliation with both the NWP and the NLWV and who was present at the hearing, intimated that not all members of the League shared Sherwin's view.[84]

Raymond Crist, the Labor Department's commissioner of naturalization, also proposed eliminating Section 5. He had other concerns and suggested that if women were given the opportunity to bring their children into the country as citizens, they could file fraudulent petitions for the admission of minors who were not their children (a practice his Bureau believed was widely employed by the Chinese).[85] Burnita Shelton Matthews was surprised and annoyed by Crist's unfavorable assessment of the bill; he had earlier voiced his support for women's nationality rights. A few days later Matthews sent a rejoinder to Crist's complaints to the chair of the House Committee, Samuel Dickstein. Crist had suggested that the bill infringed on existing rights, but Matthews thought his point was misleading. Rights and policies would simply be applied equally to both sexes, she argued. Furthermore, Labor officials (including Crist) had long urged the establishment of a uniform rule of naturalization. The NWP's bill could advance that goal.

Matthews then digressed from the subject of nationality to address the still volatile issue of protective legislation; she assured Dickstein that "the Woman's Party has no objection to protective labor legislation


based on the nature of the work and has never advocated the repeal of any such legislation." Matthews's statement was a response to a letter from the American Federation of Labor, which had supported some past Cable Act amendments but now coupled its denunciation of this equalization bill with claims that its authors were attempting to repeal all protective legislation for women. Matthews accused the American Federation of Labor of "wander[ing] away from the bill under consideration" and unreasonably linking nationality rights for American women with the issue of special legislation.[86]

If Section 5 had been removed from the equalization bill, the NLWV might have felt obliged to support it. However, the NLWV's official position on children's nationality rights was still—and was probably intentionally—vague at this time. Maud Wood Park had reportedly told the U.S. Hague delegation that she personally thought the mother should have equal control over her children's nationality, but the League had not voted on the issue. Although the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship registered approval of the NWP bill, the NLWV continued to withhold it. Yet, as Wold had observed rather wistfully, the support of the League "would undoubtedly be most helpful, perhaps even essential."[87] In the end the equalization bill went before the House Committee with the endorsement of the NWP, some local associations of female attorneys, the National Association of Women Lawyers, and the American Institute for International Law.

The convictions that drove the NWP's campaign for this equalization bill still fueled the organization's promotion of an equal rights amendment. Yet, the NWP did not want that fact to prompt antiamendment forces to withhold support for this equalization bill. That unwelcome response was, however, an inevitable one, and the association between the NWP's equalization bill and its more controversial endeavor to secure an equal rights amendment not only forced a split within the women's organizations supporting nationality rights but also left their Congressional allies divided. Cable informed Burnita Shelton Matthews that the equalization bill would never survive as written. Committee members disliked the citizenship provision for "illegitimate" children as well as Section 5, he reported; and those members who opposed an equal rights amendment were also


opposing this nationality bill.[88] The NLWV's disassociation from the bill, the House Committee's unreassuring response, and the American Federation of Labor objections to its provisions all suggested strongly that the NWP's advocacy of the equal rights amendment and purported hostility toward special legislation for the female wage earner had alienated some key allies in the cause of independent citizenship.

The bill never made it to the statute books, but NWP's leaders could rarely be reproached as irresolute. A year later a similar bill was before the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization. It was 1933, and the country had a Democratic president after a succession of Republicans. The Seventy-second Congress had been evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats in both Houses, but when the Seventy-third convened, sixty Democratic Senators sat with thirty-five Republicans, and House Democrats held a 310 to 117 majority over the Republicans (who had lost Cable in the Democratic sweep Of 1932). When the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization called its hearing on this new nationality bill, Cordell Hull had been Secretary of State for less than a month, but his Department immediately demonstrated that it planned to assume an active advisory role on nationality reform.

Secretary Hull wrote to House committee chairman Dickstein, informing him that the State Department maintained a skeptical posture on customized nationality bills that altered the rules on citizenship and expatriation.[89] Hull referred to a previous letter from Assistant Secretary Wilbur Carr to Dickstein that expressed the State Department's concern over the effects of such a bill. In this correspondence Carr had outlined the Department's reservations about legislation that fostered incidents of multiple nationality and absentee citizenship. Reinterpreting the rule of jus sanguinis to include a mother's right to determine her children's nationality would, warned Carr, "probably be more far-


reaching than might be at first supposed." And, he added, it was "hardly necessary to say" that when an American woman married an alien man and moved abroad "the national character of that country is likely to be stamped upon the children, so that from the standpoint of the United States they are essentially alien in character." If the American mother had left the United States as a child, her foreign-born children (also Americans under the proposed bill.) would have little if any opportunity to become familiar with their country's customs and values. The Department's main objection to this bill was its implicit promotion and protection of absentee "alien" Americans who, to compound their undesirability in the eyes of the government, might also be dual nationals. Carr complained that the proposed bill threatened to revive old problems by creating a class of citizens who were aliens in every respect but legally; in closing, he strongly suggested that Congress defer action on the issue of children's nationality until the completion of a comprehensive investigation of the nationality laws.[90] Secretary of State Hull repeated this advice and referred to developing plans to draft a U.S. code of nationality that would establish parity between the sexes.

This correspondence from the State Department to the chairperson of the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization did offer some support for the idea that an American mother should have some control over her children's citizenship, but the Department emphasized the need to postpone any discussion of this issue until President Roosevelt summoned his nationality-code committee. The NWP, however, declined to mothball its bill until the executive department drafted a code.

The NWP worried that the Roosevelt administration's decision to


organize a committee on nationality would stall their reform plans indefinitely. An executive committee on nationality composed of the Secretaries of State and Labor and the Attorney General is "perfectly frightful for us" wrote the NWP's Anita Pollitzer.[91] NWP leaders were convinced that a nationality code drafted by such a committee would be more complicated and, from their perspective, less satisfactory than their equal-nationality bill. Furthermore, the NWP's allies in Congress would be forced to choose between the two reform options. The NWP continued to defy the State Department's request for a hiatus, hoping to push the equalization bill through Congress before the executive committee completed its work. Securing passage of the equalization bill would send a strong message not only to the U.S. President but also to other national leaders. The Pan American Union conference was approaching, and the NWP wanted to exact some indication from the federal government that it would support the Inter-American Commission of Women's equal-nationality treaty. The NWP's decision to continue to lobby for the equalization bill was a gamble. Congress might support the bill, but the President could still decline to sign it.

In preparation for the House hearing on the equalization bill the NWP and State Department both wrote to key members of Congress to promote their positions. Alice Paul believed that the proposal could survive if Representative Dickstein and Senator Copeland, a member of the Senate Committee on Immigration, worked faithfully for its passage. One nationality bill had passed on the eve of Roosevelt's inauguration, but the action had sparked little celebration at NWP headquarters. According to Elsie Hill, the bill had been "mangled" by a State Department determined to "put over their exclusionist policy on the back of our campaign for equality."[92] At the hearing on the equalization bill, the discussion among House Committee members indicated that they viewed the legislation before them as an immigration rather than a nationality bill. Some of the representatives from California and Texas found the bill's proposals particularly unacceptable. Charles Kramer of California asked Matthews how she would feel if her daughter had to sit next to Asian boys in school every day. "Don't you feel that we are increasing the probability of bringing in more of the Chinese and Japanese, and what have you, from those nations over there, by


reason of this bill?" challenged Kramer.[93] And, according to Martin Dies of Texas, every Mexican child that became an American would eventually return to Mexico, marry a Mexican and create another generation of hyphenated Americans.[94] Matthews expressed sympathy with the men's fears, but urged them not to let their commitment to restrictive immigration interfere with their championship of equal nationality rights for women. However, this digression on the perils of immigration spent the patience of Edith Houghton Hooker of the NWP. "If this law has been good enough for you all these years . . . it should be made to apply to us," she declared tersely.[95]

The NWP leaders were relieved when the House Committee described the bill favorably as an amendment to the Cable Act of 1922 that could establish "complete equality" between American men and women and their children in matters of nationality.[96] The bill allowed for the replacement of all references to wives and husbands in the Cable Act with the generic term spouse and thus allowed an American woman's alien husband to follow the shorter naturalization timetable then available only to male citizens' wives.

Equalitarian feminists in the United States tried to keep the treaty question alive by continually placing equalization bills before Congress. Meanwhile, the League of Nations Assembly continued to promote ratification of The Hague convention on nationality. In December 1933, when the Pan American Union held its convention at Montevideo, the Inter-American Commission's equal-nationality treaty was on the agenda. Proponents of the treaty predicted that it would fare well in the hands of the Pan American Union for several reasons: the Inter-American Commission was the Union's creation; some member countries had already embraced the treaty's principle; the United States had rejected The Hague convention; and Guatemala, Peru, and Venezuela had requested reopening the question of women's nationality within the League of Nations.

The conference lasted throughout most of December, but even before it convened most of the participating countries had announced


their intentions to sign the treaty granting equal nationality rights. The United States was not among that number. President Roosevelt had established an executive committee on nationality in April, and his administration reiterated its wish to avoid any further action on nationality matters until the committee submitted its recommendations.[97] According to Departmental instructions to the U.S. delegates, the relevant committees in both houses of Congress had agreed to suspend consideration of nationality legislation, and it would be considered an act of "bad faith" on the part of the Roosevelt administration if the U.S. delegates then signed a nationality convention.[98]

The State Department likewise repeated its position: it did not favor settling the question of women's nationality rights by an international agreement. It also proposed dismantling the group that had helped keep the conversation active, the Inter-American Commission of Women. "American representation on that body has not served to reflect the views of this Government and the major groups of women with respect to the status of women in industry and in various social relations," and if a resolution for the Commission's continuation came before the conferees, the delegation was to abstain from voting and claim that it was "without instructions."[99] After the Conference of American States was in progress, however, the Acting U.S. Secretary of State informed his delegates that they should announce that the United States no longer wished to be represented on the Commission.[100]

News of the State Department's plans soon reached the pro-treaty reformers, and a delegation from the National Association of Women Lawyers promptly materialized at the White House to voice its objections.[101] Other interested parties relayed their hope that the United States would reconsider its strategy and sign this convention on nationality. By the second week of the conference, newspapers reported that


"feminine pressure" to sign the document had reached "unexpected proportions."[102] Meanwhile, Secretary Hull, who headed the conference delegation, had been deluged by cables from treaty supporters.

The Roosevelt administration was caught off guard by the intensely negative response to its policy of inaction, and its critics were not just the usual crop of equalitarian feminists. Among women's reform organizations, only the NLWV had openly supported the administration's decision to drag its feet. The nation's press questioned the government's apparent recoil from at least the spirit of its 1930 Hague declaration. The introduction of the equal-nationality treaty had provided the United States with an opportunity to follow up its principled statements at The Hague with more concrete action, but the government now appeared to shrink from that avowal of the importance of woman's rights. Moreover, although the U.S. delegation was serving as ambassador of Roosevelt's "good-neighbor" policy, it stood in stark opposition to a treaty most American republics had agreed to sign.

On December 20, as Florence Bayard Hilles gathered a NWP delegation to meet with the President, she received the news that Secretary Hull had announced he would support an equal-nationality agreement. The day before, Acting Secretary of State William Phillips had sent the President a letter outlining the State Department's objections to the treaty solution, but the President had apparently already succumbed to public pressure. That night Phillips sent a telegram to Hull instructing the Secretary to support the agreement: "The President asks me to say for your personal information that the representative women of all parties and factions here are greatly aroused and that while he appreciates the undesirability of the proposed general language, the broad purpose is good and the reservation allows us to handle details later. He is sure you will agree with this."[103]

A Republican administration had successfully avoided signing an international agreement on nationality at The Hague in 1930, and Roosevelt had planned to follow suit at Montevideo, but the circumstances confronting the U.S. delegation three years later were significantly different. This time, the United States seemed to be playing the


hypocrite rather than the hero. And even after the President announced that the United States would support the convention, the newspapers refused to close the book on the controversy and kept discussion lively by speculating on the masterminds behind the initial decision to reject the treaty. The name of Eleanor Roosevelt, of course, cropped up in the buzz of Washington gossip. The First Lady's disagreements with the NWP were public knowledge, but she vehemently denied any involvement in the incident. The State Department had requested her advice, she admitted, but she had declined to offer it. Women's organizations fighting against the equal rights amendment and now against an equal-nationality treaty believed they had a powerful ally in Eleanor Roosevelt, and Dorothy Straus of the NLWV rushed to the defense of the First Lady. In 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt did not favor an equal rights amendment, and she was an advocate of protective labor legislation for women, but according to the Washington Post, Roosevelt was "known to favor equality in nationality."[104] Roosevelt, however, said she did not support a blanket treaty, and her cautionary comments on the wisdom of granting citizenship to American women's children settled abroad suggested that she was in agreement with the State Department (and perhaps the NLWV's leaders) on this particular point.[105]

In the midst of this flurry of discussion over the Pan American Union conference, Dorothy Straus announced that the NLWV consid-


ered the treaty proposal "meaningless" and "ineffectual," but there was strong reason to suspect that the League actually feared the opposite was true. The League had fought against the treaty because it carried such symbolic significance. The League dreaded, and the NWP hoped, that the treaty's ratification would be catalytic, stimulating a wave of equalization legislation in the United States and across the globe. According to a jubilant Alice Paul, acceptance of the treaty would mark "the beginning of the final stage in women's long struggle for justice and freedom."[106] Although the State Department still believed it could not afford to accept the view that equal nationality rights could be negotiated as strictly a "woman's question," it now had to acknowledge that not only the women seeking those rights but the press and the American public were apparently willing to judge the issue's merits on these narrow terms.

The State Department's actions had generated a surge of media publicity that offered pro-treaty reformers an ideal opportunity to air their views before a sympathetic audience.[107] Newspapers reporting on the Montevideo conference also probed the rift between women's groups involved in nationality reform. "Behind these events is a conflict twenty years old between two apparently irreconcilable philosophies held by women's groups," concluded Mildred Adams of the New York Times .[108] The Times editors sent a stern warning to feminists, urging them to mend their fences and begin to work cooperatively. "Does it occur to rival women's camps that they had better get together before it is too late?" asked the Times . "While they are quarreling about ways and means, a considerable part of the world is turning its back on the whole subject. . . . As the Fascist comes into the parlor, woman is chased back into the kitchen. National Woman's Party and the League of Women Voters had better take care. The Colored Shirts will get them both if they don't watch out."[109]

When the Montevideo conference adjourned on December 26, the


equal-nationality treaty carried the signatures of delegates from the United States, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Mexico, Panama, Bolivia, Guatemala, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Cuba. The conferees had rejected a proposal from the executive committee of the American Institute of International Law for an equal rights convention but had adopted a resolution recommending that countries take steps toward ensuring "the maximum of equality between men and women in all matters pertaining to the possession, enjoyment, and exercise of civil and political rights."[110] The Inter-American Commission of Women survived the conference, as did its indomitable chairperson, Doris Stevens. Secretary Hull approached Stevens near the close of the conference and complimented his challenger on her triumphs. "If I ever get into difficulty, I'm coming to find you to get me out of it," he quipped.[111]

The Conference of American States adjourned while the Seventy-third Congress continued its deliberations on women's and children's nationality rights. The Roosevelt administration had ostensibly bowed to demands for a comprehensive remedy to sex discrimination in the country's nationality laws. Yet, to equalitarian feminists' chagrin, when the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization called a hearing on the NWP's equalization bill, the Secretary of State and commissioner general of immigration renewed their opposition. The Secretary of State reminded the Committee that his Department still harbored "serious objections" to this kind of nationality bill and its impact on children's nationality.[112]


The chilly reception for their equal-nationality bill in the State and Labor Departments irritated NWP leaders, who felt that key supporters within the administration had apparently defected and joined the opposition. Raymond Crist of the Bureau of Naturalization earlier had assured the women he supported equal nationality rights, and at the beginning of her tenure Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins had also presented herself as sympathetic. Greene Hackworth, solicitor in the State Department, had reviewed the bill for the NWP and expressed no objections to its provisions—until now. To add a little intrigue to apparent betrayal, the NWP discovered that the State Department had requested a private hearing with the House Committee in order to persuade Committee members not to report out the NWP's bill.

The day the House opened its hearing on the bill Hull wrote to William B. Bankhead, chair of the House Rules Committee, and advised him to await the administration's report on nationality before proceeding with the women's nationality bill. "I feel sure that the ladies will find that the code which we will propose will contain a solution better in consonance with their objectives than that contained in the bill they are now advocating," he assured.[113] Three days later, Frances Perkins informed Bankhead she also hoped his Committee would delay acting on this bill until the President's Interdepartmental Commission on Nationality completed its report.[114] The administration realized, as did the NWP, that passage of the equalization bill would probably hasten Senate ratification of the equal-nationality treaty. If the House Committee followed Hull's and Perkins's advice, however, the bill would sit idle indefinitely.

The NLWV continued to cultivate its relationship with the Roosevelt administration and withhold support for the latest NWP bill. According to Mildred Palmer of the NWP, Dorothy Straus had actually urged other highly placed League members to support this legislation,


"but with the exception of two or three friendly souls, there was no comment whatsoever."[115] In a press release condemning the nationality treaty, the League issued the following enigmatic statement on the subject of expanding children's access to citizenship through their mothers: "The League believes that the fundamental right which should be considered is the best interest of the child, and not necessarily discrimination against father or mother. Equal rights for men and women may mean exactly nothing as to the nationality of their children."[116] By characterizing the derivative naturalization of minor children as strictly a child's and not a parental right, the League had managed to find a way to distinguish its nationality-rights agenda from the NWP's without appearing to compromise the goal of equal nationality rights for women. It was, however, an awkward and unconvincing effort. By the 1930s it was obvious that the nationality-rights movement was moving along a trajectory incompatible with the expectations and desires of the NLWV. The League clearly preferred to participate in a U.S.-focused effort and was equally bound by its faith in the virtues of gradual rather than seismic change. Yet, even though the debate over the treaty had begun to overrun the field the NLWV had once commanded, that organization's leaders were not willing to retire entirely and abandon their territory to the NWP. As an optimistic Alice Paul noted with relief after the House hearing on the NWP's bill, the League "did not appear for [the bill] . . . but they did not appear against it."[117] Indeed, some branches of the League had participated in the campaign for the bill, and to save face the NLWV conveyed its approval to Congress after the legislation passed.[118]

The NWP, which had established a more amicable relationship with


the previous administration than with Roosevelt's, now complained about "Democratic opposition" to their nationality bill. The NWP's accusations of duplicitous actions on the part of the executive branch disturbed Secretaries Hull and Perkins, and probably the President. Both Secretaries disavowed any deliberate attempt to delay action on the bill or renege on promises to support women's nationality rights.[119] Their retreat helped clear the way for a vote on the NWP bill. When it finally reached President Roosevelt, he called a conference of advisors, which included the two sponsors of the bill, Dickstein and Copeland. After group deliberation, the President recommended some small changes in the bill's punctuation; Congress quickly complied, and the President signed the legislation on May 24, 1934—the same day the Senate ratified the equal-nationality treaty.[120] Under the new nationality law, the foreign-born child of an American woman or man assumed American citizenship at birth and maintained it, subject to certain prerequisites.[121] The new law also altered the Cable Act by extending to men the special rules for naturalization and renunciation of citizenship that since 1922 had been options available only to women in transnational marriages. It appeared that the "feminine lobby" had finally orchestrated a successful end to a splendid crusade. Women of the United States had achieved independent citizenship.

Immigration, naturalization, and expatriation policies had long defined both married women and minor children as dependents, making their citizenship and their future as residents of the United States subject to the independent actions of another family member. In the 1930s the rules governing women's and children's access to citizenship attracted great attention internationally, and although the U.S. State Department still preferred to drive these policy issues along close and par-


allel tracks, by early in the decade the nonresident married woman's and minor child's routes to citizenship had diverged. When the country's nationality law finally abandoned its automatic categorization of wives as adult dependents, the nation put to rest the notion that marriage constituted an act of elective expatriation.[122]


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Chapter 6 Nationality Rights in International Perspective
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